Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

Peer-Reviewed Article: Res(is)tance of Remains

Ari Tanhuanpää, PhD, Senior Conservator, Finnish National Gallery

On the reste that is not but which nonetheless remains

In this article, my aim is to approach the artwork’s being, taking as my starting point Jacques Derrida’s quasi-concept the reste (remains), and the neologism he derived from it, restance – especially as he discusses them in a number of his works. The essay consists of my reading of Derrida’s essay Athens, Still Remains (2010) (Demeure, Athènes, 2009)[1], which Derrida wrote to accompany the photographs Jean-François Bonhomme had taken in Athens. But, to start, let us take a look at a modest, unsigned painting lying in storage at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum: a tiny painting from a series of four, depicting a dancer. A great deal of its paint has fallen off, which gives it a certain charm. It is as if the dancer is dancing in the middle of the ruins – or is it, rather, that she remains motionless while the blanks around her dance? This is a strange pas de deux. One has the impression she is just about to disappear, any time now.[2] But the dancer seems to resist her total disappearance, just as the painting, even in its present, pitifully fragile and fragmentary state, as I claim, resists its complete downfall. I would like to suggest that both the dancer’s and the painting’s mode of being is not subsistence but rather restance – or, to use another word Derrida was fond of: demeurance/demourance (‘abidance’).[3] In its current condition, the painting could be described as a ruin – however, it must be emphasised that it is not a reste, as the reste is not, whereas the artwork as a physical artefact undeniably is.

[1] Jacques Derrida. Athens, Still Remains. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, originally published as Demeure, Athènes. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2009 [1996]. Perhaps the most notable early occurrence of remain(s) in Derrida’s oeuvre is Glas – according to Charles Ramond, the ‘quasi-totality of Glas, from the first line, can be considered as a meditation on the remain(s)’. Derrida begins this book with a quote from Jean Genet: ‘what remained of a Rembrandt torn into small, very regular squares and rammed down the shithole.’ Jacques Derrida. Glas. Trans. John P. Leavey & Richard Rand. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986 [1974], 1; Charles Ramond. Dictionnaire Derrida. Paris: Ellipses Édition, 2016, 200.

[2] Georges Didi-Huberman has referred to somewhat similar phenomena using the term aperçue (a feminine past participle of aperçevoir, French for ‘to perceive’), see Georges Didi-Huberman. Aperçues. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2018.

[3] Generally, le reste has been translated into English as ‘remains’, ‘remainder’, ‘remnant’, or ‘residue’, sometimes also as ‘rest’. Restance, in turn, has been translated as ‘remainder’, ‘remaindering’, or ‘remaining’. Derrida once said that he ‘cannot say whether or not remainder, by itself, adequately translates restance, but it matters little since no single word, out of context, can by itself ever translate another word perfectly’. Jacques Derrida. ‘Limited Inc a b c’. Trans. Samuel Weber, in Limited Inc. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1988 [1977], 52; Jacques Derrida. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money. Trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992 [1991]. For Derrida on translation as a whole, see his ‘Des Tours de Babel’. Trans. Josef F. Graham, in Difference in Translation. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, 165–207.

Featured image: Unknown artist, Dancers I–IV, oil on canvas, 19cm x 13cm.
Finnish National Gallery / Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Henri Tuomi and Hannu Pakarinen

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Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Editorial: Living in the Material World

Marja Sakari, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

26 May 2020

 

As I sit down to write this Editorial, the museums in Finland have been closed for more than two months. In this challenging situation, continuity also offers some consolation, the fact that everything continues despite the Covid-19 virus. At this time there is also light at the end of the tunnel, and the museums are scheduled to reopen at the beginning of June, following the decree of the Finnish government.

There is a basic need in people to see beautiful and thought-provoking things in time and space, as a bodily experience – and that is exactly what museums can offer. The digital is only a substitute.

The third issue of FNG Research we publish this year is in this sense special. The articles in this edition are, as if by accident, all related to the effect of the physical aspects in art works. They all underline the importance of materiality and the use of physical means in visual art works: a sense of materiality, the use of tactile surfaces and colours in art.

In an interview by Gill Crabbe, Hanne Tikkala, who is funded as a research assistant at FNG’s materials research laboratory to undertake research for her doctoral dissertation, discusses the use of different colours by the iconic figure in Finnish ‘Golden Age’ art, namely that of Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Forgeries of his works have been circulating in abundance, even during his lifetime, which makes this research of utmost importance to the contemporary art world and art market. The research is based on a conservation project that started in 2017. FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj, together with Tikkala, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research shows, among other things, that Gallen-Kallela always tried to use high-quality pigments that retain their colour, which is difficult to imitate.

The two other articles in this issue have been published in the exhibition catalogue of Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction, and the exhibition is currently on show in Stockholm, in the Prins Eugen’s Waldemarsudde museum until 16 August 2020.

In her article, ‘Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism’, Anne-Marie Pennonen is underlining the importance of simplification and the sense of materiality in art in the period following the two World Wars. The style also became an ideological and ethical question for many artists of that time, as they combined spirituality with social idealism. As Pennonen states: ‘The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.’

In Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff’s article ‘A Changing Landscape’, the poetical and ideological aspects are underlined in Finnish landscape painting during the 20th century: ‘Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states’, she writes. The industrialisation of Europe prompted many artists to think about the possibilities of using landscape painting as a manifestation and expression of more spiritual ideas and that was achieved through, among other things, the deployment of colour. The ideal of simplicity too evoked parallels with music and spiritual life. A very Asian notion of emptiness and space was also emphasised.

During this period of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everybody is confined to their homes, the meaning of culture and intellectual activity becomes even more important than before. It is a question of connecting with others. Art plays an important part in bringing humanistic ways of thinking to the fore. This is something we all need – and we need it right now.

Featured image: The banner on the facade of the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki, during the closure of the museum in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The text says: ‘Art is waiting until we meet again.’
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

A Sense of Materiality, Simplification and Ascetic Minimalism

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Western art and the applied arts underwent great changes in the early decades of the 20th century. The post-First World War period was characterised by idealism, from culture to politics and the economy. Efforts were made to break established norms, find new means of expression and test the boundaries of art. In art this change manifested in abstract art, while in the applied-arts field there was a rejection of traditional ornamental styles, and a simplification of shapes and materials. The aim was to create a democratic world, and the material environment played a central role in this endeavour.

In the spirit of the age, the art field idealised machines and mass production and strove to combine spirituality with social idealism. At the same time, various avant-garde movements connected with Modernism began to take over. Conversely, the opposite values were also highlighted in the applied arts, where the goal was to get rid of mass production. Already in the late 19th century, encouraged by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement, artists and craftsmen were urged to integrate their work with that of artisans, returning to their immediate connection to their material. The importance of hand-made objects and the use of natural materials were also emphasised.

Following international trends, Finnish artists began to use new methods in the spirit of Modernism. The truth-to-life academic style of painting and using materials was abandoned in favour of simplification and a sense of materiality, which were all emphasised in both the visual and applied arts. Eastern artists and aesthetics played a significant role in this development. This article discusses how the materiality and asceticism of Finnish artists’ paintings can be viewed alongside ceramics and textile art. How does a sense of materiality, and on the other hand minimalism, appear in these works? Which methods have been used, which features have been emphasised, and how does this trend relate to oriental aesthetics?

Featured image: Ahti Lavonen, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, 54cm x 65.5cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Yehia Eweis

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Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

A Changing Landscape

Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Also published in Anne-Maria Pennonen and Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Silent Beauty – Nordic and East Asian Interaction. Ateneum Publications Vol. 117. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum. Transl. Don McCracken

Many of the most significant transformations in European art between the 1870s and the First World War occurred in the field of landscape painting. Although landscape painting as a genre was initially a relatively small part of the visual arts field, it offered opportunities for improvisation and self-expression, and a deeper relationship with nature as an artist, writer or traveller. Landscapes were associated with poetry, purification and heightened emotional states. Many artists eschewed the materialistic view of an industrialising Europe, and instead sought an understanding of landscape painting and a deployment of colour within it that would evoke parallels with more intangible forms of expression, such as music and spiritual life. In the era of Symbolist art in the 1890s, an image of the world based on sensory perception encountered an image fuelled by the imagination. New styles and compositions replaced the objectivity of plein air landscapes; there was no differentiation between the way the foreground and background was treated, and the traditional concept of perspective was broken.[1]

Nordic artists’ ways of portraying the landscape changed radically at the end of the 19th century. One of the major reasons for this was a growing familiarity with Japanese and Chinese art and its visual culture.[2] Characteristics of Japonisme began to appear in Nordic landscape art from the late 1870s. From an international perspective, this was already the second wave. Nordic artists’ perception of the landscape expanded and focused on new kinds of subject matter. Gabriel P. Weisberg summarised the new visual features of European art when he said that they came from Japanese imagery that featured numerous references to Mount Fuji, rugged beach cliffs, dense lines of trees and the rhythmic formation of waves.[3]

[1] Richard Thomson. ‘In to the Mystic’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (151−77), 151; Rodolphe Rapetti. ‘Introduction. Landscapes and Symbols’, in Frances Fowle (ed.), Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880–1910. Brussels: National Galleries of Scotland, Van Gogh Museum, Ateneum Art Museum & Mercatorfonds, 2012, (15−38), 15.

[2] Europeans did not necessarily distinguish between Japanese and Chinese ceramics and art. Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘Rethinking Japonisme: The Popularization of a Taste’, in Gabriel P. Weisberg et al. (eds.), The Orient Expressed: Japan’s Influence on Western Art, 1854–1918. Jackson: Mississippi Museum of Art, 2011, (17−75), 17−19, 33; Anna Tuovinen [Kortelainen]. ‘Japanismia à la française’, in Anna Tuovinen (ed.), Japanismi Suomen vuosisadan vaihteen taiteessa. Turun taidemuseon julkaisuja 2/94. Turku: Turun taidemuseo, 1994, (6−21), 10−12.

[3] For new visual tropes in Japanese art, see Gabriel P. Weisberg. ‘The Japonisme Phenomenon’, in Gabriel Weisberg, Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff & Hanne Selkokari (eds.), Japanomania in the Nordic Countries 1875−1918. Helsinki: Ateneum Art Museum, Finnish National Gallery & Mercatorfonds, 2016, (14−37), 27−31.

Featured image: Anitra Lucander, Stony Moor, 1957, oil on canvas, 41.5cm × 54.5cm
Ester and Jalo Sihtola Fine Arts Foundation Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Pakarinen

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Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18 cm Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Travels through his Colour Palette

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Materials research is a vital part of maintaining up-to date information on artworks in museum collections. Gill Crabbe meets FNG assistant researcher Hanne Tikkala, who is compiling a comprehensive database of the pigments used in Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s paintings

As one of the largest repositories of works by the Finnish visionary artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), the Finnish National Gallery is continuously looking to refine and update its technical and art-historical understanding of the artist and his oeuvre, including knowledge of the materials he used. With some of his finest paintings fetching six-figure sums on the international art market, this continuing research is an essential part of maintaining the most up-to-date information on the artist, especially as it is often the FNG that collectors and museums approach to provide authentication of works in their possession. Since Gallen-Kallela – an iconic figure in Finnish art of the ‘Golden Age’ – was prey to forgers even during his own lifetime, research into the artist’s materials becomes even more important. Moreover, such data is also of indispensable help in solving conservation and restoration-related questions and problems. It also contributes to an increasing understanding of the techniques the artist evolved during his career, as well as providing corroborative evidence for art historians in their research.

Since 2017, FNG’s Senior Conservation Scientist Seppo Hornytzkyj and his colleague Hanne Tikkala, assistant researcher in the FNG’s materials research laboratory, have been conducting an extensive analysis of the pigments Gallen-Kallela used, selecting works spanning his entire career, from 1880 until 1929. The research has been partly funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, which has awarded Tikkala three year-long grants to cover her salary to undertake this research work for her PhD under the auspices of the University of Jyväskylä.

Featured image: Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Mt. Donia Sabuk, 1909, oil on wood, 14cm x 18cm. Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

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Editorial: ‘When Museums Are Open Again, the Crisis Is Over’

Leevi Haapala, PhD, Museum Director, Finnish National Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

 

27 March 2020

 

Less than two weeks ago, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin gave a memorable press conference in which she highlighted the exceptional situation in the country due to the coronavirus epidemic. Government officials started to draft the implementation of the exceptional law to protect the most vulnerable parts of the population. One consequence is to limit large audience gatherings and to keep cultural institutions, museums and concert halls closed to avoid spreading the virus. In the FNG’s management team we could not expect it to happen that soon. We had already prepared new and safe instructions on museum etiquette for our audiences, and even stopped using devices such as touch screens and headsets to avoid direct contact among our audiences. Still, one of our key tasks is to keep museums’ doors open to serve our audiences. Now that our doors have been closed we are facing a different reality from that of two weeks ago, and asking our staff for ideas, as well as feedback from our visitors on what we should do and how we can best serve our audiences now.

During the past ten days our organisation has finally taken the famous digital leap also on an everyday level, not only as one of the institution’s strategic goals. Last week’s word was cancelling, and this weeks’ word is reorganising. Remote work from home requires all the technical support to keep digitally functioning, which is vital for keeping spirits high, teams together and projects running. Online meetings via Teams and Skype meetings, the intranet’s project work spaces, and WhatsApp groups are already in use alongside more conventional platforms like Intra news and email. Also a surprise, old-fashioned phone calls are back in our toolkit!

In the current edition of FNG Research we cover different subject matters and research interests, national, transnational and global, linked to the future of our collections. One of the key articles, by Gill Crabbe, is dedicated to the European Revivals research project initiated by the Finnish National Gallery in 2009, which aimed to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. Its concluding conference, ‘Art, Life and Place: Looking at European Transnational Exchange in the Long 19th century’ earlier this year at the Ateneum Art Museum, as well as its five previous international conferences, scores of published papers and affiliated exhibitions, have broadened the scope of European revivals substantially. ‘The issue of cultural revivals, whether national, universal or local, is far more wide-reaching, multidimensional and complex than we could possibly have imagined at the beginning of this journey’, state the Director of Collections Management Dr Riitta Ojanperä and Chief Curator of the Ateneum Art Museum Dr Anna-Maria von Bondsdorff, who were both initiators of the research project.

Another text, which relates to the revival research project, is the introductory lecture by Anne-Maria Pennonen to her recent doctoral thesis In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, which was examined in February 2020 at Helsinki University. Pennonen’s key analysis in her thesis is to explore the intellectual and mental changes in the historio-social and temporal context taking place in Finnish landscape painting in the second half of the 19th century, and ‘how the general awareness of ideas concerning nature and developments related to the history of nature changed’. Landscape in art is not only linked to landscape painting, but it is also an aesthetic category, and post-nationalistic discourse, which will be revisited in the future.

Today we are witnessing unexpected drastic changes globally in our societies. While writing this I should have been finishing my speech for the opening ceremony of the ‘Mad Love’ exhibition, curated from Seppo Fränti’s large art collection, but now the show awaits post-crisis rescheduling. Fränti’s collection is his life’s work and he donated it to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery two years ago. Obviously, this ‘opening of the decade’ had to be cancelled due to the current situation and limitations on large public gatherings. In this FNG Research edition we publish two articles that deepen our understanding of the 650 works in the donated collection.

In the first article Kiasma Collections Chief Curator Dr Kati Kivinen and Curator Dr Saara Hacklin, who together curated ‘Mad Love’, analyse the significance of the collection and describe the collection handling and management processes that were key elements in the acceptance of this large-scale donation. For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual arts and especially paintings by talented young artists of the period. The statistics of the collection reveal its structure: ‘While the Fränti Collection complements the museum’s collection, it also alters it. The donation comprises works by 90 artists, of whom more than 50 are new to the museum. It also adds weight to the proportion of Finnish paintings from the 2010s in the museum’s collection.’ The Fränti Collection has come under the institution’s protective wing and is promoted to be a part of a public collection and a shared cultural heritage looked after by professionals.

In the second article on the Fränti Collection art historian Dr Juha-Heikki Tihinen brilliantly analyses the emotional contents that are activated through collecting and attempts to understand the psychological dimensions of the collector living in a labyrinth-like open art repository. Tihinen asks: ‘How should one approach a very eclectic collection?’ While museums often seem to seek coherence and comprehensive representations of certain time periods, private collectors are allowed to focus on specific artists or phenomena in art. As Tihinen points out, the Fränti Collection ‘is more of a passionate verbalisation of the opportunities and boundlessness of art’, reflecting the collector’s mental landscape within the field of contemporary art. Tihinen’s art-historical perspective takes in some iconic collectors and museum quality collections, and examines the ideals and behavioural patterns behind collecting, opening up wider understanding of the meaning of collectors for the art world. Tihinen also leaves us with an image of Seppo Fränti as an enthusiastic art lover and as a storyteller through his active and passionate role as a collector among two generations of artists in Finland.

Our task in the museums is to ask ourselves, what kind of narratives we create from this current time of epidemic crisis and its prevailing dystopic mindscape. We should ask ourselves, how do we write relevant histories in a time of crisis, and what are the lessons we should learn? Those forthcoming stories should be multiple, linked to other stories, individual narratives from all around the world, not only given official truths or nationalistic narratives. I would see our artists from local and global communities being very perceptive at this point. And the multidisciplinary results will be seen sooner than we think on different platforms, most likely first on online digital platforms, and later on in museums and galleries, when we are ready to reopen and to meet again face to face.

P.S. The title of this editorial is taken from a column by Anna-Stina Nykänen in 26 March edition of Helsingin Sanomat, entitled ‘Why the closing of the museums made me cry?’ The current epidemic reminds the author of the writings after the Second World War, when the opening of the museums was seen as a real sign of peace.

Featured image: Kiasma suljettu / stängt / closed. March 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen

Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

When a Passionate Collector Meets a Museum

Saara Hacklin, PhD, Curator and Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

The curators’ look at the Seppo Fränti Collection

In 2017, Christmas came early for Kiasma. The museum received an extraordinary donation from the Helsinki-based collector and art-lover Seppo Fränti. The donation was preceded by a long dialogue between the collector and the museum’s director Leevi Haapala, and the final seal was placed on the agreement just before Christmas.

For nearly four decades, Fränti has been collecting mostly Finnish visual artists. The main emphasis of his collection, which comprises around 650 works, is on Finnish paintings. As art historian Juha-Heikki Tihinen has said, ‘as a collector, Fränti is a patron who reacts quickly and relies on his gut feeling’.[1] Fränti wants to become friends with the people behind the artworks because, for him, collecting is a passion and a way of life. In recent years, this passion filled up his home.

Generally speaking, Fränti’s collection is a grand gift for the Finnish National Gallery; at the same time, it hides behind it a large amount of work. The museum dived into the project through the processes of transportation, examination, documentation, maintenance, conservation, and restoration. This article looks at the reception of the Fränti Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. It considers how the character of this private collection might have altered when it became a part of a large public contemporary art collection, and describes the process that the works underwent on arrival and during exhibition planning.

[1] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: Lapinlahden Lähde project & Mental Health Finland, 9.

Featured image: Teemu Mäenpää, Aimless, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 121cm x 105.4cm x 2.1cm, The Seppo Fränti Collection, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

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The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018 Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

Moomin-like Joy and the Seppo Fränti Art Collection

Juha-Heikki Tihinen, PhD, Art Historian

Also published in Saara Hacklin and Kati Kivinen (eds.), Hullu rakkaus / Galen kärlek / Mad Love. The Seppo Fränti Collection at Kiasma. A Museum of Contemporary Art Publication 170/2020. Helsinki: PARVS, 2020. Transl. Eva Malkki

‘Suddenly he felt so happy that he had to be alone. He strolled off towards the woodshed. And when nobody could see him any longer he broke into a run. He ran through the melting snow, with the sun warming his back. He ran simply because he was happy, with nothing at all to think about.’[1]

Art collections and the act of collecting often bear a significant emotional content, for with the collection the collector builds their own little cosmos, through which they can express intense feelings. In 2016, the art collector Seppo Fränti described the emotions he felt in his home when surrounded in every direction by art: ‘It is wonderful; I am like the Moomintroll, imbibing a Moomin-like atmosphere. I love to be surrounded by all this. Sometimes I might shriek a bit like Little My if I feel like it.’[2] This quote can best be understood by looking at pictures of Fränti’s home when it had been taken over by art and one could only move along narrow corridors between artworks. The collector’s home was literally covered in art, which took up every surface. The apartment was somewhat reminiscent of the Merzbau, a sculptural structure by German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) that filled five of the eight rooms in the artist’s home in Hannover and grew organically as Schwitters picked up objects and materials around the city to add to the installation. Seppo Fränti’s collection started off as pictures hung on walls but later grew organically to fill the whole space.

Fränti’s collection is fascinating because it presents a compilation of the art he has chosen according to his preferences and that he experienced as being significant. The collection donated to Kiasma comprises some 650 works[3], the earliest of which Fränti acquired at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.[4] The collection is not intended as an all-encompassing historical portrayal of the art of the period; instead, it is an experiential interpretation of some of the phenomena in contemporary art. The central aspects of the Fränti Collection are a fascination with contemporary art and the collector’s personal relationship with almost all of the artists. The Seppo Fränti Collection is not homogeneous; in fact, it is startlingly heterogeneous and it is not always easy for an outsider to follow the collector’s logic.

[1] Jansson, Tove, 1988. Taikatalvi. Translated into Finnish by Laila Järvinen. Helsinki: WSOY, 132. Excerpt in English from Moominland Midwinter, transl. Thomas Warburton.

[2] Tihinen, Juha-Heikki, 2016. Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta – Seppo Fräntin kokoelma. Helsinki: The Lapinlahden Lähde Project & Mental Health Finland, 20.

[3] The collection’s growth rate has been startling, as at the time of the first exhibition in Lapinlahden Lähde in 2016, the collection as a whole comprised around 500 works.

[4] Tihinen, Häpeämättömästi taiteen puolesta, 11.

Featured image: The interior of Seppo Fränti’s apartment, 23 February 2018
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen

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Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen

European Revivals in 2020 and beyond

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

Following the recent concluding conference of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals research project, Gill Crabbe asks its keynote speakers, art historians Professor Murdo Macdonald and Professor Patricia Berman, to assess the impact of the ten-year initiative as they look to the future

In 2009, when the Finnish National Gallery initiated its European Revivals research project the main aim was to examine the phenomena surrounding European national revivals from a more wide-scale international perspective. This included looking for parallel processes and similarities in the cultural constructions of nationhood within the European region, at a time when national art-historical discourses had emphasised a specific local uniqueness of each cultural revivalist narrative. As one of the prime movers in the Project, Director of Collections Management at the FNG Riitta Ojanperä, pointed out: ‘We didn’t want to name the project “National Revivals” but rather “European Revivals” to emphasise the transnational aspect.’ The FNG thus set out to generate a series of international conferences organised by both themselves and by institutions in other countries, that would bring together both museum and academic scholarship, fostering and broadening international networks, stimulating and publishing new research, inspiring affiliated exhibitions, and encouraging a reassessment of existing art-historical narratives.

Ten years on, and six international conferences, scores of published papers and a number of exhibitions later, the scope of European revivals has evolved substantially, as could be seen in the wide-ranging presentations at the concluding conference organised by the Finnish National Gallery in January 2020 at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki. During this period, the cultural revivalist discourse in art and art history has been re-examined and recontextualised, so that even the concept of a Golden Age in the long 19th century has come under scrutiny. As Patricia Berman, Theodora L. and Stanley H. Feldberg Professor of Art, Wellesley College, Massachussetts, noted in her keynote speech at the conference: ‘The idea of a Golden Age is always equivocal. When pictured in paint, it’s a perfect past in the midst of a tense present. That perfect past, in European Golden Ages was almost always an ethnic discourse, erasing or marginalising certain populations. What we increasingly and collectively see is how profoundly shaped by stereotypes our discipline has been and how to shape the tools to defuse and move beyond them.’

Indeed, in the collection of peer-reviewed papers by those who had contributed over the years which was published by the FNG to coincide with the 2020 conference, Riitta Ojanperä and Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Chief Curator at the Ateneum Art Museum, who were both initiators of the project, wrote: ‘The issue of cultural revivals, whether national, universal or local, is far more wide-reaching, multidimensional and complex than we could possibly have imagined at the beginning of this journey.’ It is a journey that has centred around a series of conferences that has taken those involved on a round trip from Helsinki to Oslo, Krakow, Edinburgh and back to Helsinki, with institutions from these cities hosting them in an impressive example of international collaboration. Themes ranged from ‘Myths, Legends and Dreams of a Nation’ (2009) to ‘Artists’ Colonies and Nature’ (2015), ‘Aesthetic Values in the National Context’ (2014), ‘Modern Identities’ (2012) and ‘Cultural Mythologies around 1900’ (2017).

Featured image: Hugo Simberg, Fantasy, 1896, watercolour and gold on paper, 16cm x 15cm, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download ‘European Revivals 2020 and beyond’, by Gill Crabbe, as a PDF

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Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm. Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola

Lectio Praecursoria: In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape

An Introductory Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation, In Search of Scientific and Artistic Landscape – Düsseldorf Landscape Painting and Reflections of the Natural Sciences as Seen in the Artworks of Finnish, Norwegian and German Artists, University of Helsinki, 21 February 2020  

Anne-Maria Pennonen, PhD, Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum

Opponent Prof Bettina Gockel, University of Zürich, Custos Prof Ville Lukkarinen, University of Helsinki

Landscape painting is a rather new phenomenon in Finland. Apart from a few examples from preceding centuries, it started to develop properly only in the course of the 19th century. In its early stage, landscape graphics and illustrated travelogues played an important role. Moreover, Düsseldorf had a great influence on how artists’ interests – and later the public interest – were directed towards landscape painting.

In Finland and Sweden, the public gaze was focused on Düsseldorf as a result of the ‘Nordic Art Exhibition’, which took place at the Royal Academy in Stockholm in 1850. The exhibition presented works by artists who had studied or were working in Düsseldorf, and it was the landscapes by the Norwegian artists, Hans Gude and August Cappelen, that attracted the most attention. Inspired by the exhibition, Werner Holmberg became the first prominent Finnish artist to travel to Düsseldorf to study landscape painting, in the summer of 1853. Victoria Åberg, Magnus von Wright and Fanny Churberg were among others who travelled to Düsseldorf following Holmberg’s lead.

As for the role of the Art Academy in Düsseldorf, it was actually the work of individual artists and their activities outside the Kunstakademie that built up the city’s reputation in landscape painting. One of these was Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who is regarded as the founder and pioneer of the landscape painting of the Düsseldorf School. At the beginning of his career, Schirmer was nominated to teach the landscape painting class in 1830, and later he continued as a professor. In Düsseldorf, Schirmer had a great impact on the activities outside the Kunstakademie, and he introduced a new approach to landscape, according to which it was essential to look at the landscape in a ‘proper fashion’, and expressions like ‘the new naturalism’ and ‘the truth of nature’ were widely used. As a part of Schirmer’s teaching practice, it was essential to study landscape in the open air, and accordingly compose sketches and studies from nature – only from nature. Schirmer’s ideas and teachings were conveyed to Finnish and Norwegian artists by the Norwegian artist Hans Gude.

Featured image: Hjalmar Munsterhjelm, Brook (a copy after Johann Wilhelm Schirmer’s Parthie an der Düsselmit Pestwurz), undated, 48.5cm x 55.5cm, Gösta and Bertha Stenman Donation, Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Kirsi Halkola
Public domain. This image of a work of art is released under a CC0 licence, and can be freely used because the copyright (70 full calendar years after the death of the artist) has expired.

Read more — Download Lecture at the Public Examination of Anne-Maria Pennonen’s Dissertation as a PDF

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